on 8 March 2017
It says a lot for Ford Madox Ford’s ability to expand the significance of a character by thoughtfully providing a social and historical context that Christopher Tietjens is indisputably the hero of “Some Do not” (1924). In retrospect, this is so from the moment we meet him on the branch-line to Rye. And, yet, Tietjens is variously described as a mad bullock, a dying bulldog, a hog, someone with lobster eyes, and even “odious” by the woman who comes to love him. He rescues suffragists, without agreeing with their cause; is almost unbearably honourable, "a regular Dreyfus", according to one appalling character, the General, who adds “there, there, my dear boy. Come and have a sloe gin. That's the real answer to all beastly problems." Tietjens never reads a novel but can quote from any work of literature. Politically, his one-nation Toryism agrees with the far Left over a minimum wage and assuming the power to enforce it. And he is "the last decent man in England": "I stand for monogamy ... and chastity. And for not talking about it."
One interest in "Some Do Not" is discerning how many of the values of this unusual hero, Ford shares. Tietjens (and Ford?) trades in national stereotypes, following some of his worst with the observation that, with such characteristics, the French, Italian, Prussian, and American could never fathom the off-break. What saves Tietjens, not so much from readers (or at least me because, to my surprise, I am on his side from the outset), but from madness, is the horror of the coming 1914 War. "One has to clear up. I'm going out", he says in his buttoned-up voice. Possibly because he is above entitlement, when nearly all of the characters around him expect it, his qualities and his unwavering commitment to rights and duties endure, and to a greater extent than his predecessor in Ford’s work: Edward Ashburnham, the hero of “The Good Soldier” (1915), a novel that is usually more acclaimed but that I like less than “Some Do Not”. By way of a disagreement with most commentators, particularly Graham Greene, I had lots of sympathy with Sylvia Tietjens -- even as I admired Valentine Wannop’s very different views -- not least because Christopher Tietjens is, at once, wonderful and awful, and living with him would be impossible.
I look forward to reading the remaining three novels in the “Parades End” series, including “Last Post” (1928), so disliked by Graham Greene, who, in some respects, is quite influenced by Ford. For the most direct influence, though minus most of the subtleties, one would probably turn to John Le Carré’s Smiley Trilogy, and especially the middle novel, “The Honourable Schoolboy” and its titular hero.